The time has come. At 12:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday afternoon, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay will host a press conference to announce the release of iconic quarterback Peyton Manning. The move has been a longtime coming but it's still surreal to think that Manning will not be suiting up in his blue No. 18 jersey next season.
Manning and Irsay arrived together in Indianapolis on Tuesday night for the Wednesday press conference, which takes place at noon.
There are plenty of questions about Manning and his ability to play -- and where he'll play -- in 2012. Let's start with the biggest one.
Is he healthy enough to play?
The Manning camp would tell you that he is but that has not yet been determined. It really comes down to what the doctors on his new team say. No one really knows any of the medical details of Manning's neck except for those in Manning's inner-circle, and even when some of that information is leaked to the media you have to question whether it's real or a PR stunt, as we've done often during the Manning saga.
We keep talking about nerve regeneration, arm strength and things like that but ultimately it comes down to a couple of questions: Is Manning healthy enough to be cleared by team doctors? And is he healthy enough to be effective? We think the answer to both is yes but teams are going to make damn sure that's the case before investing $15 million a year, multi-year deal, or whatever kind of contract he ends up with.
Manning's father, Archie, believes the answer to both of those questions is yes.
"Peyton has probably, over the last couple of years, seen four of the top neurosurgeons in America. As a father, that's what I feel good about. He's been involved with the right people. One of them did the surgery. Now they cleared him to play. His neck is no different from any player out there. It's a danger to anyone. That's football. As a parent, we feel good [about] where he's at."
And is he healthy enough to be effective?
"What I've seen, he certainly looks fine as far as throwing and velocity on the ball," Archie Manning said last week. "I did see him a couple of weeks ago; he was in New Orleans. I saw him throw and he looked like Peyton. He hasn't had any setbacks throwing. He's been throwing for two months and has four or five [months] to go before the season starts."
So the signs are there that he'll not only be officially cleared to play but that he may not lose much, if any, of his arm's effectiveness.
What kind of team is he looking for?
Manning hasn't come out and given us a checklist of what he wants in his next team but we can take a few guesses.
He's ready to win now. He's not a rookie. Manning is turning 36 years old next month. He knows he doesn't have much time left. Therefore, he wants to go to a team that gives him the best shot at winning a championship. Luckily, a franchise quarterback makes almost any team an instant contender.
He needs weapons on offense. Or at least one weapon -- a top-notch receiver. It's been reported he and Reggie Wayne would like to play together next season. Manning has always had a legit No. 1 receiver whether it's Marvin Harrison or Reggie Wayne. So whether it's Wayne or Larry Fitzgerald or Brandon Marshall, Manning needs a top-flight receiver.
He likes to be in control, which tells me he wants some leeway with whatever offense he goes into. I don't think he needs to be the offensive coordinator or anything but he'll need a coaching staff that is willing to cede the type of control that he needs to operate successfully.
He was a private person while in Indianapolis. Just a guess but he may prefer to be in a smaller city, similar to Indianapolis.
And, finally he needs to be paid. Manning was paid $26 million last season and would be cashing a $28 million check if the Colts weren't releasing him. Let's be honest: Manning needs to be paid like the elite quarterback he is.
Which teams will be interested in him?
Let's get the obvious ones out of the way. The Miami Dolphins are considered to be one of the front-runners and in fact they believe they are indeed the front-runners. The Washington Redskins are another team often connected to Manning. With plenty of cap space and no quarterback of the future on the roster, you have to think Washington makes a run at Manning. The Arizona Cardinals are another team many believe will pursue the former Colts QB, despite the fact that they signed Kevin Kolb to a longterm deal last year.
The Seattle Seahawks are reportedly willing to spend the money to acquire Manning and they're also willing to tweak their offense so that it fits him. The New York Jets may seem like an unrealistic option right now but they should be considered a contender. The Kansas City Chiefs are among the league leaders in cap space so you can throw them in there, too.
The less obvious teams would include the Denver Broncos, even if they have Tim Tebow in house right now. The Cleveland Browns make some sense but they may not have the weapons on offense to entice Manning to come to Cleveland. Houston is another possibility but the Texans seem set at quarterback and reports out of that area indicate they're unlikely to pursue Manning. The Tennessee Titans are another AFC South team that could consider him but they just spent a first round pick on Jake Locker and have also made it known that they're unlikely to go after him. The San Francisco 49ers are reportedly sticking with Alex Smith, but what if they can't agree to a contract?
Darkhorses include the Philadelphia Eagles, who surprised everyone a couple years ago in signing Michael Vick (and then again last year with Nnamdi Asomugha). The Minnesota Vikings spent a first round pick on Christian Ponder last season but Manning would instantly make them a contender.
Wednesday's press conference will be just the beginning of what could end up being the most sought after free agent in NFL history. Perhaps not since Reggie White in the first year of free agency in 1993 have we seen a player like this hit the open market.
Get your engines started. The Manning story is about to dominate all NFL story lines for a while.